Saturday, 29 June 2019

Algoma's Crazy Spring Migration

Now that summer is here and the birding has slowed down a little bit (and my dog just got fixed yesterday so I'm sitting at home taking care of him), I figured I'd do a little write-up on the crazy spring migration we had here in the Algoma District this year.

April was pretty typical for rare birds. We got some of the expected rarities, like Greater White-fronted Goose, Ross's Goose, Western Meadowlark, Canvasback, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and Lesser Black-backed Gull. Early May saw twelve American White Pelicans as well, a good bird for here.

The run of real good birds started May 10th. My dad called me to saw he saw 4 Short-billed Dowitchers on St. Joseph Island. We don't get many of them here each year, but I wasn't going to make the half hour drive from home just to add them to my year list. He then sent me the photos and two were indeed Short-billed Dowitchers, but two were actually Stilt Sandpipers! This would have been a lifer for me so that was enough for me to hop in the car and head there. Luckily, they were still there when I arrived. This was the 7th record of Stilt Sandpiper for the Algoma District. See my eBird list here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56099977.

Stilt Sandpiper

The next day, May 11th, it was early afternoon and I was sitting on my front porch, enjoying a couple beers and the feeder bird activity in my yard. Having just moved into a house in Echo Bay at the end of January, I was busy working on my yard list. I was excited because I was able to add Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Evening Grosbeak to my list, but it got way better soon after. I noticed two large raptors tangling up in the air. My first though was Bald Eagle, but then they broke off, one going into typical Turkey Vulture flight, one not, which got me thinking this might be something really good. I got my binoculars up and sure enough, there were those white wing tips. Black Vulture! I'm sure glad I had my camera beside me, as I was able to snap a few pictures before it disappeared into the sunny sky. My phone was actually dead at the time, so I raced around the house, trying to find my charger so that I could get the word out, although I knew it almost certainly would not be relocated. This was the 2nd record for the Algoma District. The first one was also in Echo Bay, but back in 2002 in January. Here's my eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56134250.

Black Vulture

Next up was the Painted Bunting. This bird was observed by a homeowner coming to her feeder (really it was seeds placed on the railing of the deck) in the west end of Sault Ste. Marie on May 14th. She notified local birder Don Hall, who went and observed it on the morning of the 15th. Since it was still there, he put the word out about it, but viewing was limited as the homeowner did not want her address posted publicly. I was able to get it that afternoon after work: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56329100. This was the 3rd record for the Algoma District and first time within the city limits of Sault Ste. Marie.

Painted Bunting

On May 18th, a Parasitic Jaeger was recorded off of Gros Cap by Stan Phippen, west of Sault Ste. Marie. See the details here: https://ebird.org/canada/view/checklist/S56649427. This was only the 3rd record of the species within the Algoma District, although they are regular in Lake Superior during spring and fall migration, so they almost certainly occur in our waters each year, it's not not many people are out looking for them. On the same day, a Common Gallinule was heard at the Echo Bay viewing platform. Usually, this would be very exciting, but one spent all last summer there as well. We would later find out that there were two Common Gallinules there, this time at leats one of the birds has actually been seen. Prior to the 2018 bird, there were only two records of Common Gallinule for the Algoma District.

Shorebird migration is generally isn't too exciting in the Algoma District, as we lack good habitat for them. This year though, we received a ton of rain at the right time, flooding fields and knocking some birds down out of the sky. On May 20th, I received a call from Stan saying that a Dunlin was seen on St. Joseph Island. I had actually already got one that morning elsewhere, but I was heading to my parents' place later that morning and would be heading right by the spot, so I said I'd stop and check it out. When I arrived, Stan actually pulled up at the same time on his way back through. There were two Short-billed Dowitchers now present, which weren't there when he first went through. we got the scopes out and while we were making sure they weren't Long-billed Dowitchers, all of the sudden Stan yelled "Phalarope!". It had just popped up into his scope view behind the dowitchers. It was a Wilson's Phalarope, the 5th record for the Algoma District. It stuck around all day, allowing many birders to come see it. Here;s my eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56534802.

Wilson's Phalarope

Later that night, I received a Facebook message from a local photographer of a shorebird, asking for an ID. It was a Whimbrel, but I assumed she got it down in the Point Pelee area, as I knew she had just been down there. I asked when and where she say it, and as soon as she said "Desbarats", I was in my car and on my way. I arrived at the spot she saw them and there was nothing there other than a bunch of Semipalmated Plovers (which normally I'd be happy about, but there were hundreds coming through this spring when he typically only see a handful). There was still a bit of daylight left, so I decided to check out some surrounding fields. As I went around the bend, I could see a Black-bellied Plover, so I stopped to check it out. As I started scanning the rest of the field, I saw a group of large shorebirds off in the distance. They were so far and there was some heat haze going on, but I was pretty sure they were godwits and not the Whimbrels I was looking for. The photos I managed were terrible, so all I had were scope views. All of the sudden, a few lifted up their wings and I noticed a brownish colour underneath. Having no prior experience with any godwits, I opened up the app on my phone and sure enough, they were Marbled Godwits, 13 of them. I sure was excited, as this was yet another lifer, but I really wanted identifiable photos. I drive down the road a bit, to see if I could get a better angle. That's when I saw someone I knew in their front yard, which happened to be the house that belong to the field that the birds were in. I got permission to walk back into the field to get a closer look. I was able to get much better photos and it turns out, there was a lone Whimbrel back there too. I never would have saw it if I wasn't able to walk back there. See my list here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56560487. This was the 5th record of Marbled Godwit and the first time more than a single bird had been seen in the Algoma District. For the Whimbrel, it was the 7th record, but there would be more to come. 169 were seen on the 23rd migrating over downtown Sault Ste. Marie, 8 were observed migrating through the St. Joseph Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary on the 25th, another 20 were in the Portlock Flats in Desbarats on the 25th as well (I went as saw 6 of those birds), and one in Thessalon on June 5th.

Marbled Godwits
Whimbrel

On May 21st, Stan and his son found a Ruddy Duck in the St. Marys River in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. This was about the 11th record of the species for the Algoma District, the list can be seen here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56604999. The next morning, May 22nd, Ken McIlwrick found two more Ruddy Ducks in the Bruce Mines sewage lagoons, one of which was still there when I went later that afternoon.

Ruddy Duck

I'm going to back up a little bit to my morning of May 22nd though. While I was walking the dog, Lindsey posted a photo on an Indigo Bunting at our house. I was disappointed when I got back and couldn't find it, as I still needed it for my yard list and Algoma year list. Just as I was about to leave for work, I noticed a very pale bird eating at an orange I had out. I assumed it was a dull female, so I snapped a couple photos. I zoomed in and noticed that the beak was not the beak of an oriole, but a beak of a tanager. Then I realized the white wing bars it had suggested Western Tanager. Having not seen one before, I send the photo around to a few people to get their opinions. By the time I had made the drive to work, I had received confirmation that it was indeed a Western Tanager, only the 3rd record for the Algoma District! I was stuck at work for the day, but I invited all the local birders to drop by to see it, and everyone was successful. It ended up sticking around for five days. Here's my eBird list from the morning I found it: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56612132.

Western Tanager

It turns out that on that same day, May 22nd, a Gray-headed Dark-eyed Junco was on St. Joseph Island. A co-worker of my dad had taken a cell phone photo of it and send it to my him, asking it it was a junco. Sure enough it was, and not just any junco. This was the 1st record of the subspecies for the Algoma District and I think only the 4th for all of Ontario. Unfortunately, the bird did not stick around, but the photos can be seen here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56778155.

The Algoma District Birding Facebook group helped find the next rarity, this time a really really awesome one. On May 24th, Bullock's Oriole was coming to oranges at a feeder station up in Wawa. This was the 1st record Algoma District and a provincial rarity. You can see the photos here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56680780. A bunch of us made the 2.5 hour trip the next day, but it was only a one day wonder. Instead, we were treated to families of Canada Jays and 20 species of warblers.

The last big rarity was on June 1st. Stan found a Yellow-throated Warbler out at Gros Cap, which was the 3rd record for the Algoma District. He had acutally asked me if I wanted to join him that morning, but I was unable to because I had to work. Darn it! See his eBird list here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56962719.

Those were the big rarities, but there were more among all those as well. There was Great Egret in Echo Bay, many Red-headed Woodpecker sightings, two Least Bitterns at the Echo Bay viewing platform, a Golden-winged Warbler at the St. Joseph Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (my first for the Algoma District), multiple Ruddy Turnstones, a Yellow-throated Vireo, a couple Northern Mockingbirds, Black Scoters (rare spring migrants here), more American White Pelicans, another Yellow-headed Blackbird, a couple Willow Flycatchers, and a Carolina Wren.

Golden-winged Warbler

Hopefully fall migration will be half as good as this spring was!

Note: all record numbers are based off of eBird, therefore may not be entirely accurate.